MARSHALL – Appliance giant Whirlpool Corp. was awarded $7.6 million by a jury that found a California-based water filter company copied a Whirlpool design.
The verdict was reached March 10 by a jury in the Marshall Division of Eastern District of Texas. The jury concluded TST Water infringed on the patent of Whirlpool's Filter 3 replacement refrigerator water filter by replicating it to create its own filters, WSW-5 and HDX FMW-5, which are sold under the labels WaterSentinel and HDX, respectively. TST Water allegedly advertised its filter replicas as alternatives to Whirlpool's Filter 3.
This win for Whirlpool was not a surprise when taking East Texas trends into consideration, according to Srividhya Ragavan, a professor of law at the Texas A&M School of Law.
"One particular trend for the Eastern District of Texas is that it has gained a reputation as a much more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction," Ragavan told The Record. "The trials here tend to be over short duration and thus, makes it harder for the defendant to set up a strong defense."
Ward, Smith & Hill founder Johnny Ward, who represented Whirlpool in the proceeding, said the evidence presented showed TST Water willfully copied the Filter 3 design, meaning the amount awarded to Whirlpool could triple. That decision will be made by Judge Rodney Gilstrap.
The suit was indeed a victory for Whirlpool, but not a major one. According to Professor Paul M. Janicke of the University of Houston's Institute for Intellectual Property & Information Law, many patent infringement suits won in the region produce similar results.
"The median verdict for a successful patent infringement case has been around $7.5 million for about 10 years now," Janicke told The Record.
Janicke added that although Whirlpool could win more than the initial $7.6 million, the final amount may never be revealed to the public.
"The main problem for observers is that the settlement terms are nearly always kept secret, so we really don’t know how much money changes hands, and that prevents a full and fair analysis of how the system is working," he said.
It is unknown whether TST Water plans to appeal the judgment.